SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Google is hoping to build the world's largest digital filing cabinet in the latest attempt to deepen people's dependence on its services.
The Internet search leader began its pursuit of the audacious goal Tuesday with the much-anticipated debut of Google Drive, a product that stores personal documents, photos, videos and a wide range of other digital content on Google's computers.
By keeping files in massive data centers, users will be able to call up the information on their smartphones, tablet computers, laptops and just about any other Internet-connected device. Content can also be more easily shared among friends, family and co-workers by sending links to the information instead of emailing large attachments.
Google Drive is offering the first five gigabytes of storage for free. Monthly prices for additional storage will range from $2.49 for 25 gigabytes to $49.99 for one terabyte, equivalent to five laptops with 200-gigabyte drives.
The service is initially available through a Web-based interface or as a software installation on Windows-based computers, Mac computers, laptops running on Google's Chrome operating system and smartphones powered by Google's Android software. A version compatible with Apple Inc.'s hot-selling iPhone and iPad is due in the next few weeks.
It may be several weeks before Google Drive is available throughout the world. Many Google users were simply told Tuesday to check back and request to be notified.
Offering online storage is part of a technological shift away from storing personal files on a single machine in a home or office. Users instead are entrusting data to computing hubs accessible just about any time at any place with Internet access. The concept has become popularly known as "cloud computing."
For all its technological know-how, Google is a late arrival in what is shaping into the Internet's version of storage wars. Other combatants with a head start include two other technology heavyweights, Apple and Microsoft Corp., and pioneering startups such as Dropbox Inc. and Box Inc.
Google is hoping to differentiate its storage service by equipping it with more convenient and powerful tools. Google Drive will draw upon the company's expertise in Internet technology for text and images to make it easier to find data quickly. It can search within documents, for instance, while Dropbox looks for file names. It also includes optical character recognition that can search for specific words contained in scanned newspapers or other sources.
Google Drive is gearing up five years after word first leaked that Google was working on an online file storage service, then called Gdrive. The lengthy delay made it seem as if it all might be an urban legend, until Tuesday. In a blog post, Google poked fun at itself for taking so long, likening Google Drive's announcement to the sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.
But Google still has plenty of time and, more importantly, plenty of firepower to topple the competition, said Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Gartenberg.
"We are entering this era where the personal cloud is going to be more important than the personal computer, so to remain relevant Google needed a service like this," he said.
Even so, the new service threatens to amplify the privacy concerns that already have been swirling around Google as it gathers a trove of personal information through search requests, correspondence sent through Gmail, videos watched on YouTube and posts on the Google Plus social network.